Reminiscing: A Practical Application for Science

dick-hinson1Rerun from the December 13 2006 edition of the Jackson County Times

“For Sale”: Tree Stands, Automatic Feeding Stations, Shooting Tents, Shelled Corn, Ear Corn, Salt Blocks, and Game Cameras!”

If an old-time game warden could come back and see this advertisement, he would prepare to arrest every deer hunter in Jackson County. Nobody could convince him that it was now legal to bait the animals.

For many years into the 1950’s, a whitetail deer was rarely seen in this area. The breeding stock had been decimated by various parasites, disease, and almost finished off by a long term epidemic of screwflies. Most of the surviving animals stayed hidden in the remote river swamps, and were hunted by packs of deer hounds. However, even these “swamp-deer” were so few in number that the hunters would have probably helped the wardens jail anyone taking deer over bait! Everyone knew that passenger pigeons had become extinct, and they wondered if the whitetails were headed in the same direction.

Now we may as well admit that, up to this time, the occupation of “scientist” was not considered to affect the activities of everyday life in Jackson County. They kept to their own arcane world. Practical results of many long-term experiments were difficult to identify. This was about to see a dramatic change!

In the early 1950’s, residents around the county began noticing numbers of small planes. Most were piper cubs, flying in wide, slow circles. Inquiries revealed that these operations were a result of research science in action. Male screwflies, sterilized by radiation, were being released from the aircraft. A scientist had determined that the female fly mated only once. Coupled with the short life span of the insects, both would die before the next breeding cycle….At least, this was the theory from the secret world of the unidentified scientist…..

Back on the grounds of the cattlemen, farmers, and hunters in Jackson County this news was the topic of every conversation. There were legions of skeptics and various jokes. Not all, however. Some said that nothing else had worked, so “give it a chance, as crazy as it sounds.”

As they say, the rest is history. As time passed, it became evident that the screwflies were disappearing. Not only locally, but throughout the south, the scourge had been lifted. Cattlemen no longer had to locate and treat a newborn calf within a day or two after birth to save them. The fawns could now survive, and the deer herds began to recover. Their numbers were so small that it required almost a half-century to reach our present proximity to overpopulation.

A milestone was established. For the first time, the average citizen of Jackson County gained a respect and appreciation for the practical application of science! As we deal with current problems such as conserving the future quality of our water supply, this lesson should not be forgotten.

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Last modified onWednesday, 01 January 2014 02:55
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